Campus Building and Nation Building through Christ
The Myth of Romantic Love and Confines of True Love

The Myth of Romantic Love and Confines of True Love

-Dr. Alexander George

Falling in love is subjectively experienced in a very powerful fashion as an expression of love

Love is an intangible, incompletely measurable and supra-rational phenomenon and therefore it has not lent itself to scientific analysis. It is good for all of us to take some time to try to understand the psychodynamics of love and the difference between ‘falling in love’ and real love or true love.

From our early child hood we have been told of fairy tales wherein the prince and princess, once united, live happily forever after. In the later years of our life this myth has been further reinforced in our minds by the influence of media and sometimes even by well meaning people who insist that perfect matches are made in heaven, to be discovered by us on earth.

The myth of romantic love tells us, in effect, that for every young man in the world there is a young woman who is ‘meant for him,’ and vice versa. Moreover, the myth implies that there is only one man meant for a woman and only one woman for a man and this has been predetermined in heaven. When we meet the person for whom all the heavens intended us, beeps will be seen on the radar screen and our heart may skip a beat. We begin to tell ourselves that since the match is perfect, we will then be able to satisfy all of each other’s needs forever and ever, and therefore live happily forever after in perfect union and harmony. Should it come to pass, however, that we do not satisfy or meet all of each other’s needs and friction arises and we fall out of love, then it is clear that a dreadful mistake was made, we misread ‘Gods Will’, we did not hook up with our one and only perfect match, what we thought was love was not real or ‘true’ love, and nothing can be done about the situation except to live unhappily ever after or get divorced.

Falling in love is subjectively experienced in a very powerful fashion as an expression of love. When a person falls in love what he or she certainly feels is ‘I love him’ or ‘I love her’. The experience of falling in love effectively serves to trap us into marriage – a risky life time commitment. This romantic phase of love happens at some stage in the progress of events even in an arranged marriage. Without this trick, this illusory and invariably temporary phenomenon, many of us who are either happily or unhappily married today would have retreated in whole hearted terror from the realism of the marriage vows!

In reality, all those who got married to the person they ‘fell in love’ with, will if they are honest confess that the experience of falling in love is invariably temporary. No matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner of later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough. By this I mean that the feeling of ecstatic lovingness that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes. The honeymoon always ends. The bloom of romance always fades.

To understand the phenomenon of falling in love, we first need to understand the concept of ego boundaries. Ego boundaries are arbitrary limits we set up inside our minds. These limits develop over the years from childhood into adolescence and even as adults. These limits define ourself to ourself – sometimes referred to our self image. It is lonely behind these boundaries. Some people feel their boundaries to be protected and comforted and find a sense of safety in their loneliness. But most of us feel our loneliness to be painful and yearn to escape from behind the walls of our individual identities to a condition where we can say: ‘Me and my beloved are one! Loneliness is no more!’ The experience of falling in love allows us this escape – through only temporarily.

The essence of the phenomenon of falling in love is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual’s ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his or her identity with that of another person. The sudden release of oneself from oneself, the explosive pouring out of oneself into the beloved, and the dramatic disappearance of loneliness accompanying this collapse of ego boundaries are experienced by the lovers as an ecstatic feeling of love that is often hard to describe. Lovers in that romantic phase believe that the strength of their love will cause the forces of opposition to bow down in submission and melt away into the darkness. All problems will be overcome. The future will be bright.

After marriage, sooner or later, in response to the problems of daily living, the individual WILL reasserts itself. He wants to have sex; she doesn’t. She wants to go for the friend’s wedding reception; he doesn’t. He wants to put money in the bank; she wants to buy a microwave oven. She wants to talk, he wants to watch TV. She doesn’t like his friends; he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their hearts, begin to come to the sickening realization that they were really not meant for each other, that the beloved has and will continue to have his or her own desires, tastes, prejudices and timing different from the other’s. One by one, gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love. Once again the ego boundaries come into place and they become two separate individuals. At this point they begin either to drift apart or to initiate the work of real loving.

An important characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved. Only when the couple learns that at true acceptance of their own and each other’s individuality and separateness is the only foundation upon which a mature marriage can be based, real love can grow. The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity. Moreover, the genuine lover always respects and even encourages this separateness and the unique individuality of the beloved. Failure to perceive and respect this separateness is extremely common, however, and the cause of much mental illness and unnecessary suffering.

Real love does not have its roots in a feeling of love. To the contrary, real love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking, when we act lovingly despite the fact that we don’t feel loving.

I define real love as the WILL to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. The behaviour is defined in terms of the goal or purpose – in this case, spiritual growth – which is Gods own ultimate goal for our life. WILL is desire of sufficient intensity that it is translated into action. Love is as love does. Love is an act of the will – namely, both an intention and an action. WILL also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love. Whenever we do actually exert ourselves in the cause of spiritual growth, it is because we have chosen to do so. The choice to love has been made. Falling in love is not an act of the will. It is not a conscious choice.

Extending one’s self almost always involves, giving up certain comforts, preferences, habits – sacrificing something to serve another’s highest good. Real love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful. Falling in love is effortless. Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development. If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage. Certainly we are not thinking of spiritual development. Indeed, after we have fallen in love and before we have fallen out of love again we feel we have arrived, that the heights have been attained, that there is both no need and no possibility of going higher. We do not feel ourselves to be in any need of development; we are totally content to be where we are. Our spirit is at peace. Nor do we perceive our beloved as being in need of spiritual development. To the contrary, we perceive him or her as perfect, as having been perfected. If we see any faults in our beloved, we perceive them as insignificant – little quirks or darling eccentricities that only add colour and charm.

The experience of falling in love may capture us at times when we are definitely not seeking it, when it is inconvenient and undesirable. We are likely to fall in love with someone with whom we are obviously ill matched as well as with someone more suitable. Indeed, we may not even like or admire the object of our passion, yet, try as we might, we may not be able to fall in love with a person whom we deeply respect and with whom a deep relationship would be always desirable. All this is part of the mystery of this intriguing phenomenon we call ‘falling in love’ that has baffled many a soul.

Most of us desire to some extent to be loving, yet many of us are not in fact loving. The desire to love is not itself love. Because genuine love involves an extension of oneself, vast amounts of energy are required and, like it or not, the store of our energy is as limited as the hours of our day. We need to remain in constant connection with the eternal source of love, if ever we are to love others. This is the first commandment: To love God with our whole being. If we do not ensure that our own vessels are full and over flowing with God’s love, we will be unable to love others. We will become depleted, striving to give what we do not have from our own un-replenished empty vessels.

We simply cannot love everyone. This is why Jesus Christ gave us the second commandment, limiting it to love our neighbour and not the entire faceless humanity. True, we may have a feeling of love for humanity, and this feeling may also be useful in providing us with enough energy to manifest genuine love for a few specific individuals. From the parable of the Good Samaritan, we know that our neighbour is one whose path we cross in our journey of life, who has a need and whose need, we are, by the grace of God, able to meet. Genuine love for a few individuals (neighbours) is all that is within our power. To attempt to exceed the limits of our energy is to offer more than we can deliver, and there is a point of no return beyond which an attempt to love all comers becomes fraudulent and harmful to the very ones we desire to assist. Consequently if we are fortunate enough to be in a position in which many people ask for our attention, we must choose from among them those we are actually to love. This choice is not easy; it may be excruciatingly painful. But it must be made. To attempt to love someone who cannot benefit from your love with spiritual growth is to waste your energy, to cast your seed upon arid ground. Genuine love is precious, and those who are capable of genuine love know that their loving must be focused as productively as possible through self discipline.

[The author gratefully acknowledges thoughts taken from M. Scott Peck, ‘The Road Less Travelled’]